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3 companies issued stop-work orders over 'significant risk' of combustible dust explosions

3 companies issued stop-work orders over 'significant risk' of combustible dust explosions

SCDF personnel inspecting the damage at a Tuas industrial building a day after a fire broke out at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 on Feb 24, 2021. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Three companies were issued stop-work orders after they were found to have inadequate control measures, despite "significant risk" of combustible dust explosions, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Workplace Safety and Health Council on Friday (Mar 19).

This comes after an explosion and fire at Stars Engrg in Tuas last month killed three people and injured another seven workers. An inquiry committee was convened to look into the causes and circumstances that led to the accident.

MOM has also stepped up inspections that targeted 500 companies working with combustible dust that could pose similar risks, with half of them inspected so far.

READ: 486 safety breaches found during workplace inspections since mid-December: MOM

READ: Tuas fire - The explosive danger of potato powder, sugar, flour and other dust particles

"Most companies inspected generated small quantities of dust with low explosion risk," said the authorities in a press release. 

"However, three companies were found to have inadequate control measures despite significant risk of combustible dust explosions and were issued stop-work orders."

Dust seen accumulated on weighing tanks (left) and a mixer without an enclosure to prevent dust and fumes from escaping. (Photos: MOM)

MOM urged all companies with operations involving combustible dust to undertake a review of their control measures.

"The consequence of a combustible dust explosion can be severe," the authorities said.

"ESCALATING INJURY RATE"

The Tuas explosion was among a "spate of accidents" in February, which, along with the escalating injury rate in late 2020 is a cause for concern, said the press release.

Companies could be rushing to catch up on project delays following work stoppages and exacerbated by manpower disruptions due to the COVID-19, it added.

READ: Tuas explosion: 3 workers die from injuries, 5 in critical condition

READ: February workplace fatalities climb to 10 after death of workers in Tuas explosion

MOM urged companies not to neglect workplace safety and health while balancing project schedules and manpower constraints. 

"Companies should refresh workers’ workplace safety and health training and review risk assessments, especially if there have been changes to their work processes or workplace due to COVID-19," the authorities said.

Between mid-December last year to mid-March this year, MOM mounted more than 1,000 inspections targeting high-risk industries. It found contraventions in 55 per cent of workplaces inspected, and issued a total of 13 stop-work orders.

A total of 264 composition fines amounting to S$303,000 were handed out, as were 1,270 notices of non-compliance.

The top contraventions uncovered include fall from height risks, and poor maintenance of heavy machinery such as excavators, boom lifts and forklifts.

INJURY RATE RETURNING TO PRE-COVID-19 LEVELS

Fewer workplace injuries were recorded last year, with the total number falling to 11,350 from 13,779 in 2019. Workplace fatalities also dropped to 30 in 2020 from 39 in 2019.

This translates to a workplace fatal injury rate of 0.9 per 100,000 workers.

"The fewer injuries were due largely to the suspension of workplace activities in the second and third quarters of 2020 to manage the COVID-19 outbreak," said MOM and the council.

However, the number of workplace injuries reverted to pre-pandemic levels by the fourth quarter of 2020, with 3,413 workplace injuries reported compared to 3,445 in the same quarter in 2019.

Falls from height continued to be the top contributor of workplace fatalities, with eight cases in 2020, compared to seven in 2019. Vehicular incidents accounted for four workplace deaths in 2020, compared to seven in 2019. 

Together, they contributed to 40 per cent of all fatal workplace accidents last year, said the authorities.

Slips, trips and falls and machinery incidents remained the leading causes of non-fatal injuries, the press release said, contributing to nearly half of all major injuries last year. 

However, the number of incidents has decreased significantly due to work stoppages during COVID-19, said the authorities.

There were 159 major injuries from slips, trips and falls in 2020, down from 216 in 2019; and 3,318 minor injuries from slips, trips and falls, down from 3,694 in 2019. 

Machinery incidents accounted for 58 major injuries in 2020 compared to 82 in 2019, and 1,696 minor injuries compared to 2,178 in 2019.

INJURIES BY INDUSTRY

The construction and manufacturing sectors made up for half of all workplace fatalities last year. 

Construction continued to account for the highest number of fatalities, although it decreased significantly, with nine cases in 2020 compared to 13 in 2019. 

The fatal injury rate also reduced from 2.9 per 100,000 workers in 2019 to 2.2 per 100,000 workers in 2020. This was likely due to work stoppages in the second and third quarters of 2020, said the press release.

However, the manufacturing sector saw six fatalities in 2020, compared to four in 2019. Its fatal injury rate increased from 1.0 per 100,000 workers in 2019 to 1.5 per 100,000 workers in 2020. 

Manufacturing was also the top contributor of non-fatal injuries last year, with 110 major and 2,330 minor injuries.

DANGEROUS OCCURRENCES AND OCCUPATIONAL DISEASES

The number of dangerous occurrences - incidents with a high potential for multiple fatalities - was halved, from 21 in 2019 to 10 in 2020. 

"This was likely due to work stoppages, especially in the construction sector. Seven cases were caused by collapse/failure of structures, and the other three were fires and explosion," said the authorities.

The number of occupational diseases increased by 2 per cent, from 517 cases in 2019 to 528 in 2020. 

According to the authorities, this was partly contributed to by 34 COVID-19 cases, which were classified as work-related. 

The top three occupational diseases were work-related musculoskeletal disorders, noise-induced deafness, and infectious diseases, which in total accounted for 89 per cent of all occupational diseases cases in 2020.

SLIPS, TRIPS AND FALLS

MOM and the council said they continue to be concerned about slips, trips and falls in the workplace, which were prevalent in the cleaning, transport, F&B and security industries.

"This is especially pertinent for an ageing workforce where slips, trips and falls may result in a more serious injury," they said.

"MOM and the Workplace Safety and Health Council will be engaging these industries to improve their workplace safety and health training and better educate them on slips, trips and falls prevention."

The council will also launch a campaign in June to encourage companies to prevent slips, trips and falls and create greater awareness among all workers.

Together with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), MOM is working with a technology firm and industry partners to develop a solution to prevent slips, trips and falls.

A prototype was developed through the Built Environment Accelerate to Market Programme: Digital on an Open Innovation Platform to detect such incidents, near misses and hazards using video analytics and wearables. 

The prototype has been test-bedded with the industry partners and is currently ready to market for use by industry, said the authorities. 

“The commitment of a company’s leadership is key to preventing accidents," said Commissioner for Workplace Safety and Health and Divisional Director of MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Division Silas Sng. 

"They should not wait for inspectors to pick up lapses, but should instead proactively take steps to assess the risk of their operations and take adequate control measures to prevent accidents from occurring”.

Source: CNA/ic

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